Historic Fort Worth drops Dillow House lawsuit

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Historic Fort Worth on Wednesday dropped its suit against Texas Wesleyan University and the city of Fort Worth. The legal action accused the city of ignoring its own historic preservation ordinance when it gave permission to the university to tear down the historic Dillow House.

The 101-year-old house at 3216 E. Rosedale St., on the Texas Wesleyan campus, burned in an early morning fire Sept. 23. As a result, the historic and significant features of the house were destroyed, and Historic Fort Worth sees no need to proceed with the suit, said Art Brender, the organization’s attorney.

There is no question the house now needs to be demolished, he said.

“It’s unfortunate,” Brender said, adding that Historic Fort Worth will continue to monitor the issue and take legal action again if needed.

“Since the issue of whether or not the city council can override the decision of the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission, as was done in this case, remains an important issue for the residents of the city of Fort Worth and its cultural heritage, Historic Fort Worth is concerned that few citizens will invest the time, effort and expense needed to obtain such a designation so as to preserve these historic structures for future generations if demolition of such structures is left to the unlimited discretion of five of the nine members of the city council,” a court filing Wednesday said.

Fort Worth fire investigators cannot determine the cause of the blaze, which started on the second floor, according to a fire department report. Investigators said they couldn’t rule out that the fire was an accident or set intentionally, and will list cause as undetermined unless other information arises, the report said. The house was severely damaged, the report said.

Brender said the fire department placed no blame on Texas Wesleyan.

Historic Fort Worth filed suit in state district court in Tarrant County in February before a demolition permit was issued to the university.

University officials last year went to the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission seeking permission to demolish the house, which the commission denied. Commissioners said the school did not show that the property had lost its historic significance or that the school would suffer an economic hardship by renovating the house.

Wesleyan then filed to have the case heard before the Appeals Board last November, but changed its strategy and asked the Zoning Commission to remove the historic designation, which has been on the property since 1990. In January, the Zoning Commission gave its approval, and the City Council subsequently also approved removing the historic designation.

The university is developing a new office building for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church on its campus and wants to use the Dillow House property.

Texas Wesleyan security officers told fire investigators that they began smelling smoke about 9:30 p.m. while on patrol, but it wasn’t until around midnight that they saw smoke coming from the area of the Dillow House, and eventually saw smoke coming from basement windows of the house, the report said.

The fire was reported around 12:30 a.m., the report said. A Fort Worth patrol officer also reported seeing smoke coming from the roof of the Dillow House and called to report the fire.

Samuel Dillow, a grocer and banker, built the 3,500-square-foot prairie-style house in 1912 near the corner of East Rosedale Street and Vaughn Boulevard. He lived there until his death in 1931. His daughter, a Texas Wesleyan graduate, donated the house to the university in 1979 but lived there until her death in 1982.

Wesleyan used the house as its alumni headquarters and a meeting place until 2007.

The fire report placed the value of the structure at $67,000, but Texas Wesleyan has said it was worth only about $11,500. The university has said it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the structure.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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